Today in the UK it is “Mother’s Day” or “Mothering Sunday“. In listening to the radio so far today, the term almost exclusively used has been “Mothering Sunday”, making my blood slowly come to the boil.
The Mothering Sunday term has come into vogue over the last few years, primarily to be ‘more inclusive’ (ie what about the poor menz, those single fathers who perform the duties of mothers?!). Well, diddums – there is already Father’s Day for them. After all, when it comes around to Father’s Day, no one bothers to refer to it as Fathering Sunday to be ‘more inclusive’ to single mothers, do they?
So that is the first clue about the erasure of mothers. The terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are sex-linked terms for female and male parents respectively, the sex-neutral noun is ‘parent’, and the sex-neutral verb is ‘parenting’.
The primary objection to “Mothering Sunday” is that the day then becomes all about the role of mothering, not the mother herself. No longer the noun (the mother) but the verb (about what she does, her role or duty). The mother becomes unimportant and incidental. Celebrating ‘mothering’ is about celebrating the nurturing, not the nuturer.
One of the early proponents of the modern Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis in 1912, also focused on the mothers:
She was specific about the location of the apostrophe; it was to be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.
The vision was to honour the specific woman, not the role. Interestingly Jarvis, although she had success in getting Mother’s Day recognised quickly became disappointed by the commercialisation of the celebration/holiday.
Commercialization of the U.S. holiday began very early, and only nine years after the first official Mother’s Day had became so rampant that Mother’s Day founder Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become,spending all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration. She decried the practice of purchasing greeting cards, which she saw as a sign of being too lazy to write a personal letter. She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and she finally said that she “…wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of control …”
The modern Mother’s Day was the work of early US feminists and pacifists. In 1870 Julia Ward Howe wrote her Mother’s Day Proclamation. Two years earlier in 1868 Ann Jarvis (mother of the above Anna) created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day”, also primarily pacifist, basically uniting mothers of all sides in objecting to the futility of war.
The origin of Mothering Sunday comes from the Roman celebration of the mother goddess Cybele, and was adopted by the Christians – which is why it falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. In the UK and Ireland, Mother’s Day has to ‘share’ Mothering Sunday (because heaven knows, it would really be too much to ask for two days out of 365 to celebrate mothers!).
Most other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May. Frankly, the UK and Ireland should really fall into step with this, instead of the ‘twofer’ deal they are doing now, and the offensive notion that Mothering Day and Mother’s Day are the same thing.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers out there, including my own whom I love on the other 364 days as well.